2nd Aug, 2010

Thought I’d give this blogging another go.

I feel a little embarrassed that I have left it so long to post – I’m not even sure why I stopped.  But how about I give it another go?

A year is probably too long to catch up, but I’ll give the last twelve month’s fostering a paragraph of its own.

Little Jamie ended up staying almost four months, and in that time he and I developed a lovely relationship.  Despite his autism he was very responsive to our interactions and I was happy to see his sign language and speech develop considerably during that time.  But when his first foster mum finished her medical treatment she was keen and ready to have him home, so we transitioned over a week, then said our goodbyes.  The next few months saw no placements – very few babies and toddlers came through our agency during that time.  So, after a little discussion with the family, we decided to put our “preferred age” up to six, and a few days later we were placed with a five year old girl I’ll call Beckie. That was in mid January  so Beckie has now been with us six months. Angel still comes to us for respite one weekend a month – he loves Beckie (but I’m not sure the feeling’s reciprocated).

Although this is the first time Beckie has been in fostercare, it would appear she has had a fairly disrupted early life, often being cared for by friends and family members for significant lengths of time when her Mum was unable to do so.  I think an older sister, now seventeen, has paid a large part in her care as well, and Beckie seems very attached to her, and seems to miss her more than she does the rest of her family.

The early weeks with Beckie were pretty easy.  She was quiet and undemanding,  happy and contented.  She seemed  remarkedly easy going and very adaptable.  A  good thing, as in those first few weeks with us she started Prep at the local school,  had thirteen badly decayed baby teeth removed under general anesthetic, and was involved in the lead up and actual wedding of our oldest daughter, Jess.

In those first few months I concentrated on helping Beckie to feel like she belonged in our family, giving her as many “normal” family experiences as possible. She responded well to a fairly structured bedtime routine, and boardgames and story reading  became integral to that. She wasn’t very ready for school so we often spent time doing activities and games to help her learn her sounds and numbers, and to improve her fine motor co-ordination. Now, half way through the school year, her improvement has been quite noticeable, and she spends most of her spare time on these activities (yesterday’s rainy Sunday afternoon she spent  making cards for all her friends at school,  asking me to spell all their names as she wrote in each one) .

I must admit the last few months Beckie hasn’t been quite the cheery and easygoing little girl she first appeared.  As she’s settled into the family she seems comfortable to let her guard down, so we sometimes experience  contrary and defiant behaviour that was previously unseen. I think she also struggles to balance the ongoing relationship she has with her birthmum, who she sees weekly for a couple of hours, and her growing attachment to me. Kids sometimes pull back when they realise they’re growing closer to their fostermum, maybe in a sort of emotional loyalty to their “real” mum and to protect themselves from being hurt. I see this quite clearly in Beckie.  We will have a couple of good days where she’s very happy and cuddly with me, then she suddenly does an about turn, refusing to comply to the normal demands of getting ready for school or bed, telling me she hates me, not wanting me to touch her or clean her teeth or brush her hair, activities she normally loves me to do.  Eventually her anger just dissipates or turns to distress and she lets me soothe her with cuddling  and rocking, and it all comes good again.  It seems like a cycle we just have to have.

Portia, who turned sixteen last week, is in year ten and very involved in her sports, music and drama – plus she has a parttime job  working in a local bakery five hours each Saturday.  So long as she takes her Concerta every morning, she stays on top of it all.  By the end of the day she starts getting a bit hyped up and disorganised, and that’s when she starts annoying her brother and sister with her jibes and nagging.  Luckily she usually takes herself to bed about then.

Seth has had a difficult start to the school year.  After seven blissful weeks of school holidays over the Summer he started in year eight the first of February.  We immediately struck trouble – in the first weeks of school he ran away four times, usually following an altercation with a teacher.  The kid who used to switch off and lay his head down on the table and refuse to work when he got overwhelmed  had begun to act out instead.  Not exactly aggressive, but definitely oppositional and belligerent.  And teachers were not willing to deal with that!

I attended meetings at school and we discussed what was happening to Seth – a new school year with a lot of new teachers who just didn’t know FASD  (because I hadn’t the chance to properly introduce them to it – very few professionals in Australia do know about FASD), an increasing gap in his ability and understanding and the demands of the year eight curriculum, the contrast of school with the freedom of the summer school holidays, and the raging hormones of an almost fourteen year old . We were stuck with the limitations of a state school system that only provides real special education in schools specifically for kids with an IQ under 70.  Kids like Seth are offered the services of a teacher aide (he shares his with three other boys in the class) and a modified program i.e. lower expectations and easier worksheets within the regular classroom with a curriculum aimed at the typical year eighter.  Seth was sitting in a maths class with kids learning about fractions and decimals whilst he struggled with a page of  equations requiring number facts to 100, without the concrete materials he would need to complete these sums (which he’d be too embarrassed to use even if it was made available).  He usually managed to get through half the day, but by the end of break at 12 o’clock,  some little frustration would result in a blowout and he’d do a runner!

The school tried hard to come up with some solutions to the problem but none of them could really address the underlying difficulties of teaching a kid with all the learning difficulties of FASD. Basically  Seth ended up home again for the next three months, not even home schooling – just no schooling at all.  At the end of May we got him along to a small community school about twenty minutes from home, for kids who have not met with success in mainstream schools.  He tried it out for a week or so and agreed it was better than his old school, so we enrolled him and he’s now been there the first two weeks of this term.  He’s not enthusiastic but he does get up each morning and leaves on time with Ian, who drops him on the way to work.  He’s in a class of twelve, with each kid working individually. The mornings are spent on numeracy and literacy, the afternoons he chooses from a number of electives – designed to build upon the kid’s interests and strengths.  It seems like Seth is staying safe and sticking to the computer programs.  Hopefully he’ll be adventurous and take on some art, music, or martial arts program in the months ahead.  I feel hopeful that this school will be able to work with Seth, despite his significant learning disabilities and consequent behaviour problems, and keep him somewhat engaged for another few years before helping him move into employment.  Is that too much to ask?

In the meantime I try to educate just about everyone I meet on FASD.  We were allocated a social worker (through the Department of Education) to help us work out Seth’s schooling needs.  She’d hardly heard of FASD before meeting Seth, but took it upon herself to go off and research, so that should hold her in good stead for the future when she may well meet other alcohol effected kids, even though they may not have a diagnosis (there being no real FASD diagnostic services in our state, or even the country, that I’ve  discovered) .  I’ve tried to educate Seth’s pediatrician, but she didn’t seem all that interested except to try him on a few medications, ritalin and straterra, neither of which seemed to have any noticeable effect. The principal and integration teacher at his old school certainly know a lot more about the effects of alcohol on a child’s brain than they did previously – it may help them to understand other children presenting with similar learning difficulties in the future.  And every foster carer I talk with learns a little more about what they should be looking for when children come into care, even if I can’t refer them anywhere for diagnosis and services, as I would love to be able to do. Since Seth joined our family as a tiny baby over fourteen years ago, I have endeavoured to learn all I can about FASD, for his sake, and to support  all those other parents out there also living with the damage from fetal alcohol. Some hobby, hey?


Hi, I just wanted to say thank you for blogging and keep writing if you can. I’m currently going through the application process to become a foster carer and I find your stories really helpful in understanding what I’m facing. When I first read your blog some time ago it was the first time I had heard of FASD – you’re doing great work spreading the word and ensuring that other affected children have a better chance of getting the help they need.

Thanks Ashley,
It’s good to know you’ll be starting your fostering career with some awareness of FASD – the likelihood of the children coming into your care being alcohol affected is quite high so you’ll have some idea what to look out for, and be on the right track to educating yourself and others who are interacting with your foster child.

Wow! I have just come across your site by accident – looking up FASD sites. I am an ‘old’ foster carer with a passion for getting the word out about FASD to teachers and anyone else who will listen. I have 4 children with FASD in my long term care – so I face many of the same challenges on a daily basis. I live in the sticks, so we just don’t get the support needed. Won’t it be wonderful when the day comes and specialists in this country will diagnose and the government will fund the vital programmes that these children need!

Hi Elizabeth,
Good to hear from you. Was it just coincidence that you were seeking out FASD sites on the ninth of the ninth – FASD awareness day in Canada and the States? Can you imagine coming across an event about the effects of fetal alcohol in Australia? I struggle just to get other foster carers more aware and interested – even those whose foster children I suspect are affected! Can I add you to my very short email list of other Australians parenting kids with FASD, for an occasional supportive chat?

Yes, please add my name!

I’d love to be on your list!

Just came across your blog and wanted to add my voice to the calls for you to please continue blogging. I am desperate for well-written Australian blogs about foster care / permanent care / long term care. Yours fits my bill 🙂

[…] Foster, Australian soccer football pundit, but some other time.  Eventually however, you do get to Reflections on Foster Care.  Even though this blogger is married (what’s that about?) she writes movingly about the […]

Forgot to append my blog.

[…] Reflections on Foster Care (pretty please write some more) […]

You should consider taking part in the blog carnival about foster care. You can submit and piece dealing with foster care and the foster system. If your interested.. http://www.imafoster.com/p/blog-carnival.html

Hi Janine,
I am a long term foster parent and have four siblings in permanent care since they were toddlers. They are now aged 18, 17, 10, and 11. Two have FASD so I was very interested to read about your experiences. My son, now aged 17 has FASD in it’s most severe form with very limited expectations. His young brother who is 11 is showing more and more signs. Our family life revolves around my sons behaviour, anger, rages, guilt, depression, risk taking, drug and alcohol issues, non school attendance, inappropriate behaviour, lack of information processing, no impulse control and so it goes on and on. Life with children with FASD is so, so very challenging and it seems to be such a silent conditon. People just don’t get it! My son’s behaviour is continually put down to either parenting issues or teenage rebellion. He has in fact got a serious aquired brain injury from birth and he struggles on a daily basis to understand why he behaves the way he does and why he cannot control his brain.He has attempted suicide on several occasions. We have seen doctors, counsellors, Phychologists, Physciatrists and all manner of other professionals, but the truth is that no one really knows what it is and how to deal with it. Currently we are experimenting with a range of medications, none of which are working. We are lucky that we have a great counsellor who has stuck with us for a couple of years now and has educated herself in FASD, she is a terrific support, but we all know that ultimately nothing much is going to change and in fact this condition will probably get worse and he gets older. My aim for my son is a) his survival and b) keep him out of prison as his actions and behaviour become more and more risky.
My son is also at a small community school and some of the teachers are quite supportive, but he also struggles with education levels and also works at a lower level with an integration aide. Every week I try to get him to school each day but his attendance is normally two to three days a week.
I wish there was a way we could get this condition more ‘out there’ and more professional interested in learning how to support us parents and their kids.

Hey Jenny,
So glad my blog struck a chord for you. It sounds like you’re doing it pretty tough, with two kids affected by fetal alcohol. Your older son sounds a lot like mine, who is now about to turn 16, although we’re lucky that he doesn’t seem to have the raging and mood swings that other teenagers with FASD present with. Like you, we limit our expectations to keeping him safe, and alive and out of trouble.
We haven’t had as much contact with professionals as you, mainly because we struggle to isolate one problem for one professional to attend to, as all the issues just seem a little vague at times, and no-one out there seems to have enough understanding of FASD to really offer our son and ourselves the support we so desire. The Pediatrician was only interested in treating his ADHD type symptoms – and not at all successfully. A Neuro-psychologist did a great assessment for us, when he was 11, but wasn’t able to offer any follow-up. With an IQ above 70 he doesn’t qualify for any disability services, and with no diagnosed mental-health issues, we can’t get services from places like CAMHS. We’re pleased to have met some understanding and supportive teachers, but struggle to get our boy to attend school at all – a half day once a week is good! And we have so much trouble engaging him in any educational activities, even outdoor excursions and the like. Nothing motivates him. He would like to spend all day and night playing computer games and hanging out with his mates – and sees no reason why he can’t. So discouraging. You’re doing a great job getting your son to school even a few days a week – at least he has some structure and routine in his life, and some learning must be happening!
Maybe we could stay in contact – as we travel our similar paths – share our frustrations and successes!

janine, thanks for replying, i think we really should stay in contact everything you are experiencing is like a mirror image of our life! I shall write some more after Easter. Stay strong.

Thank you for your blog, I hope you will keep posting them.

Hello Janine,

It encouraged me, to read of your caring life with Seth, identifying closely in so many areas with our son.

My main question, here, is if Seth is by now fairly comfortable with growth in reading, basic math, and conscience (cause-effect, empathy, internally motivated self-management)?

We are foster-adopt parents with a lovable 10-year-old, whom we received into our home when he was a few weeks old, and adopted within his first year of life. His bio-mom introduced both meth and alcohol into his pregnancy, so his list of influences (which are many) include FASD, ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, and sensory integration disorder. Many of Seth’s school, conscience, cause-effect, evasion/defiance (when trouble is perceived) behaviors are apparent in our son.

I realize that root causes, diagnoses, and therapies are a complex mix, all super-imposed. Parents of special needs kids educate themselves and then do their best with the lovable kids as they present in front of us.

I am just looking for some hope ahead for our son, if you see Seth continuing to make progress toward future autonomy in life, with reading, basic math, and conscience development (all that’s behind this).

Thanks for your transparency and commitment to kids.

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